Show interestposted by Kate Good on 12/14/11 at 05:27 PM
My Grandpa Good had a phrase that he repeated regularly. “Show interest,” he’d say.
I don’t know if I ever heard him explain what he meant, but I grew up surrounded by people trying to follow his advice. Grandpa passed away ten years ago this month, but if you sit down with my dad, or one of my cousins or uncles, you’ll find that they will keep winding the conversation back to you. “What are you interested in? What do you enjoy?” they’ll ask with genuine interest.
I’ve had a hard time following Grandpa’s advice recently. It’s been a rough year for a number of reasons. I’ve been extremely busy in both my work and personal life, so busy that when I had a moment to catch my breath, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I’ve also been part of a number of transitions that have taken a significant emotional toll.
Photo: Here I am with Grandpa Good at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., when I was about four-years-old.
No one died, I didn’t lose my job, I have my health, and yet this year has worn me down and left me weary. For months now, I’ve moved through life with my head down, trying to stay out of trouble, keeping to myself.
And then I almost didn’t make it home for Thanksgiving. I live in Lancaster, Pa., along with the rest of my immediate family, but two days before Thanksgiving, I needed to make a quick, one-day trip to Toronto to see our Canadian sales reps.
I’m not a big fan of flying. I don’t enjoy tight spaces or heights. I also don’t enjoy small talk on public transportation. When you’re trapped next to the same person for hours at a time, well, too much conversation can get a little tedious, I find. I prefer to catch up on the stacks of magazines I’ve packed.
Air travel is almost all about waiting in line, at the gate, on the plane. I'm pretty patient. So, when I first learned that my flight from Toronto to Philly was delayed, I wasn’t too worried. I could easily still catch the last train of the evening and be home by midnight.
But hours passed, and then our gate moved down from the main terminal to a basement room adjacent to the runway. More than a dozen flights were delayed because of storms stretching up the East Coast and over the Midwest. There were several hundred of us filling a waiting room designed for 50 people at the most.
Philadelphia’s airport had only one runway open, I learned. It was starting to sleet and snow in Toronto. And if we didn’t get out by the end of the evening, we’d be stuck in Canada for several days because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
When we finally got on the plane, I was tired of waiting. I had been up since 4:30 that morning, and I had spent lunchtime lost in downtown Toronto and had never gotten to eat. I was sweaty, hungry and ready to cry.
Then a middle-aged man in a suit came hustling down the aisle and stopped at my row. He wedged himself into the window seat, pulled out his phone, and called his wife and a colleague while I read a profile of Taylor Swift in the New Yorker and eavesdropped to pass the time. The pilots told us it would be an hour or more before we could take off. The flight attendant started to serve drinks.
People around us were talking, and after a while, the man beside me put his phone away and started talking about the weather. He asked me about myself, and I told him about my job in publishing, the difference between the Amish and Mennonites, and my disappointment in the Philadelphia Eagles’ season. Then he told me about his wife and two daughters and his work with Sony, which often took him to Asia.
We talked through takeoff and the bumpy flight. He was funny and easy and never nosy. Whenever we’d hit a rough patch of turbulence and I’d grab the arm of my seat, he’d say, “Don’t be nervous!” and then start a new topic.
Our plane landed in the fog and rain and we rushed off the plane, he to his car so he could drive home to New Jersey and me to my hotel room to sleep before catching a train to Lancaster the next morning. It was only after I found my suitcase (which the airline briefly lost) that I realized I had never asked his name.
Weeks later, I still think about that evening on the plane almost every day. My spirit has lifted. This stranger’s unexpected kindness—spotting a stranger in need and extending himself through the tedium of the long night and the ups and downs of the flight—keeps me going long after we landed in Philadelphia. He gave me hope.
These days, I find myself observing the people around me more closely. I don’t strike up a conversation with everyone I meet, but I try hard to treat them with kindness, to thank them, to remain patient. It’s the least I can do after the true kindness my grandpa and a stranger on a plane have modeled for me.
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